January 18, 2009
Edwards (Knox) United Church
Second Sunday After Epiphany
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
John gives us a great drama in this story. Jesus is in the process of organizing his posse, and after Peter and Andrew, he calls Philip. In response, Philips seeks out his neighbor Nathanael. He says "we have found the one we were looking for." He lays out a list of expectation that were filled, but adds one unexpected quality - Jesus is from Nazareth. In response to this information Nathanael says - Nazareth? - give me a break. Philip says yah, but come and see, test the waters to see if they are good. He has repeated a mantra of Jesus of come and see. It is the experience that confirms the words. It takes a jumping in, not a holding back with a default position. No half hearted and tentative response.
Nathanael decides to test the come and see process. And it is interesting how John uses the tradition to make a point - there is no deceit in Jesus which would resonate with the story of Samuel who, the text says, was trustworthy.
John’s teaching is that God is experienced in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the focal point of the community’s experience and they have experienced a moment of creative transformation where reality is seen full of God’s beauty, compassion, and justice. What it takes to see this is to come and see, to live out of the sense of God within this world, and that come and see is the process that helps one grow in wisdom and hope. Participation leads to knowledge.
One moves beyond first impressions by involvement. It is true there is always a hint in first impressions but that has to be tested. We see this in the exchange of Jesus with Nathanael when he says "I saw you under the fig tree. before Philip invited you." It is one of those moments when across a crowded room a stranger is seen and a connection is made. It is impressive when a mentor says "I saw this potential in you before you did."
Jesus responds to Nathanael being impressed by, "Oh by the way that was only a parlor trick. There is a deeper experience waiting for you when you actually come and see." We know that first impressions get tested by actually walking together, and the more we get to know the other by deep conversation, the more we experience depth of relationships. And there is another side, the deep encounter sometimes tells us the first impression was incorrect - there was no depth in what we saw. So to really get the quality is to come and see.
Our passages are about being known, and the process of growing in the knowledge of being known. For when we are first recognized as having quality by others there is a moment where we begin to accept ourselves as worthy. We flourish when we are seen as having qualities that will make reality as better. Self understanding begins in a call from that which is beyond us and that call is reinforced by those who care for us. This external reality then is internalized and our sense of self worthiness grows.
Samuel gets called and does not understand where the call is coming from. It takes Eli to help him claim his vocation, to point out that God knows him. As the psalm points out God’s knowledge of us is "too wonderful." The fact of being known in my fullness in the present moment, both in terms of the heights and depths, allows me to know and accept myself. According to process theology, divine knowledge is always defined by love. God is not about keeping score or punitive damages, but acceptance, confession, and transformation.
God is the one who is in the redeeming business, working towards the common good, where life flourishes. Now the meaning of flourishing is both easy to understand and easy to live. We know that life is about quality. Too often, though, we seek to quantified our living. We set goals and then check them off and then say this is a life lived well. To make mission worthy by quantifying it is to miss the point. What is crucial is the quality of our mission - our living.
Quality is an emerging reality. We learn from how we have flourished in the past and seek to enhance that flourishing in the present and the future. We judge the outcome by how we participate in making room for the flourishing of all life. Each particular form will have its own flourishing, and what we do is create open space where this happens. Come and see is very pragmatic. It is to look at what we have done in the creation of a better reality now and seeking to make sure that good will continue. It is to move from self referencing to see how flourishing for all enhances each. We are a better we when all of life experiences a better reality.
Come and see is invitation to live the fact we belong one to the other. Notice how the narrative moves us into this next level of community. Philip invites Nathanael. This is an invitation approach - he is saying, "I learned about flourishing why don’t you come and see if this is for you." This is an invitation of try this, live this and if you find quality in this community for flourishing, then you too will see that come and see is how we grow. No fear, no you are wrong, no lists, only come and see.
These words are an invitation to embrace the wonders of life. There is within this action of come and see a mystical reality, for we see in the contours of experience the beauty of God. We may have been unaware that we have standing on holy ground, and in the come and see we know that we are standing, sleeping, praying, and eating on holy ground. God is here, but we see only the surface of life. We are called to quality. Today’s scriptures call us to "pray with eyes wide open" as we cultivate God-filled spirituality; but also to pray in silence, listening to what J. Philip Newell describes as the "heartbeat of God."
The come and see reminds us that we need others to help us live well. Community helps us test the different invitations life offers to see if those invitations are worthy of us. A community that is open to the heartbeat of God helps form us and helps us feel this heartbeat.
This come and see defines a way a community is formed and lives. It is one of honoring the gifts of each. It is one of welcome. The German theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer once said that Community is simply our life, in Christ. Bonhoeffer said "We belong to one another, only through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ." Come and see.